FEC approves political donations via text

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Some consultants are urging a wait-and-see approach to text donations.


The Federal Election Commission voted Monday to allow campaigns to raise money via text message, but some online strategists say it remains to be seen just how much of an impact the decision will have on this year’s fundraising landscape.   

The decision from the FEC comes in response to an advisory opinion request filed by Arent Fox on behalf of political consulting firms Armour Media and Red Blue T, along with business-to-consumer messaging aggregator m-Qube.  

To raise the mobile dollars, political committees will operate a single short code solely for contributions, and an aggregator will ensure that no cell number donates more than $50 per committee each month.

Mark Armour, a former press secretary to Al Gore and president of the firm Armour Media, hailed the FEC’s decision as a “real game changer for campaigns.”  

“This is the antidote to the Super PACs,” Armour proclaimed in a news release Monday evening. “Just when corporate billionaires were about to hijack the 2012 elections, the FEC gave millions of Americans the power to match them through small donations on their cellphones.”  

Like Armour, many reformers argue that permitting small dollar donations via text will help level the playing field—advocates of campaign finance reform were urging the FEC to offer its seal of approval.

But some consultants think campaigns should take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to text-to-donate programs.  

“I think it’s likely that a bunch of people will try it because campaigns are very experimental,” says Erik Nilsson, vice president of the compliance firm CMDI. “I think the problem is going to be that they’re going to have difficulty getting the money out of the telephone company; it’s going to take time between when you process the phone bill and when the money gets to the campaign.”

Not so, says Armour who notes that m-Qube will be required to forward donations to campaigns within 10 days. 

Another consideration: whether or not text-to-donate strategies even suit your candidate or campaign. At the presidential level, most strategists agree that campaigns will see some level of success with small dollar donations via text. Both the Obama and Romney campaigns expressed support for the concept as the FEC weighed the matter. But further down the ballot, argues Nilsson, the picture is murkier.

“The candidate has to have a compelling kind of message to make someone want to pull out their phone and make a donation,” he says. “What works for Obama is not going to work for Sen. Roy Blunt.”

And as former FEC Chairman David Mason points out, while text donations allow a campaign to collect cell phone numbers, it won’t get the donor’s name to help bolster the campaign’s list. Nine times out of 10, argues Anthony Bellotti, campaigns are better off focusing on organically-built email house files.

Bellotti, an online strategist with the Republican firm Campaign Solutions, does see some promise in the impulse-driven donation medium, especially if a candidate has a large support base driven to make small dollar donations.

“You’re going to see more and more of these openings for possible revenue generators,” says Bellotti.  “No matter what happens, it is never a substitute for a coherent message or a compelling reason for people to give.”

Erika Spicer contributed to this report.


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